Years ago, in a very fem-friendly high school English class, I read (and then re-read on my own about a zillion times) Charlotte Gilman’s “The Yellow Wall-Paper.” From what I remember — and I remember it pretty clearly, I think — it’s a story about a woman who has been sent to bed for your garden variety turn of the century (1892) female hysteria. She sits up in her room, completely divorced from the goings on of her own life, denied all entertainment / distraction, including even a pen and paper, and becomes obsessed with the patterns she sees in the yellow wallpaper on her walls, because what else is there? Eventually she sees people in the patterns, and as she grows quietly more and more and more insane, she believes she is one of them and climbs on in.
That story is the scariest story I have ever read — and in context, I probably read this around the same time as Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery,” and I still vote “The Yellow Wallpaper” a million times scarier — basically because I relate to it so strongly. I mean, she wasn’t even allowed a pen and paper … I, too, would go incredibly and irredeemably nuts.
Here’s how I know:
I take one week off writing-writing — the real writing, the work — and I become a total bitch. Even if it was my choice to stop writing — even if I decided to pack, or clean, or be Volunteer of the Year at my kids’ school.
I take two weeks off writing-writing — and I descend into a self-worth-questioning morass of chocolate-consuming, late-night weepies.
I take three weeks off … the shit hits the fan. That’s basically where I am now. Consider this:
6 weeks ago I finished the first draft of the screenplay for / with Mr. Lovely and Hilarious. I also started packing up the house for our move into the Dream House.
A week later, I started the second draft. And I ramped up the packing. Mr. Lovely and Hilarious and I started sending pages back and forth, which was a pretty decent system, until The Move began to consume me … at which point my writing slowed, his sped up, and he decided he might as well write Draft 2 “on his lonely,” as we say around here.
That sounded good at the time. I had to pack. I had to move. I had to incubate twin boys and care for toddler girls and hold it together somehow. And I had a lot of apartmenttherapy.com to catch up on.
But here’s the rub:
We moved into the Dream House three weeks ago — and I promptly went on bedrest. It’s hard to really complain about bedrest when you have a nanny and husband who works at home and can basically sit on your ass and make them do all the diaper changing and grocery shopping and errand running and meal providing while you, well, sit on your ass.
HOWEVER — sitting on your ass in the middle of your household is no way to get any writing-writing done, especially when your actual active PROJECT is being done by Mr. Lovely and Hilarious and you’re just waiting around on it (not that I could concentrate on it if the situation were reversed, I mean, I’m sitting here in the middle of my loud friggin’ household where there is no way I could get anything done … especially as I stew over the fact that no one is doing anything the way I would do it myself if I weren’t on fucking bedrest, but that’s a subject for another day). Regardless … I am not writing-writing. And I am going a little insane.
I was doing okay, really I was, until my husband walked in last night and said he’d finished unpacking his office. That was sort of the last straw. See, the whole point of the Dream House, for me, was a pantry, a laundry room, a guest room, and my own “DO NOT DISTURB” office space. I have spent the last six years thinking about that office space. I have designed every spare inch of my smaller-than-9×9 refuge — I have done drawing after drawing of the furniture plans, I have gone over and over the cabinetry, I have surfed the internet for file cabinets for hours at a time, I have sat on dozens of sofas smaller than 51 inches long. But my office remains a mess of boxes because I am on fucking bedrest. My files are not in those file cabinets, because I have to depend on the kindness and priorities of other people to take my file cabinets to the body shop to be painted before I can file my papers. I still don’t have a desk. I still don’t have the couch. I still don’t have my fucking OFFICE.
This is a dumb thing to complain about, it really is. I mean, even if I had my office, I couldn’t hang out in it, I’m on bedrest, cooking the twins, and that is literally the most important thing I need to be doing right now. But the problem with bedrest is that I am never alone. It doesn’t matter if the door is closed, people are in and out all day. My kids are the loudest tiny people on earth, apparently, and my husband likes to sing to himself. All. Day. Long. And make calls on speaker. Which apparently he believes doesn’t work unless you are SHOUTING into the phone. And I am stuck here, in the middle of it, with nowhere to be alone.
Which is not, it turns out, really just a “Yellow Wallpaper” problem. I mean, I have TV, I have internet, I have the Huffington Post and the pre-eclampsia boards, where I am killing ridiculous amounts of time. And I have the constant, whether-I-want-it-or-not, human-interaction.
And THAT’S the problem — I’m really climbing the walls because I have a “A Room of One’s Own” problem. I am never alone. Pre-Dream House, I had no private space either, but I could escape a few hours a day and go write in a coffee shop. And that was fine. But that’s all gone now, and I am losing it.
I am fairly certain that the number one reason I am a writer is that I am, by temperament, someone who craves being alone. I don’t get lonely when I spend a few hours writing-writing — I get jazzed. I get re-charged. I don’t feel cut off from other people, I feel more connected to them, when I spend a few hours alone. I like to eat alone. I love to go to movies alone. I just like to be alone.
And I am getting desperate. I literally broke down CRYING when my husband walked in here a minute ago to ask me what I want for lunch. I almost killed the nanny for coming in to get the laundry this morning. If I don’t get some space soon, I don’t know what I’m gonna do.
Which is fucking hilarious, considering as of a few weeks from now I am going to have FOUR KIDS. FOUR KIDS. Which makes it incredibly unlikely I will ever be alone again.
Not until they’re all in school, at least — which, and yes, I’ve done the math, is the fall of 2013.
Here’s hoping I get my office unpacked before then.